Gaston is the highlight of this otherwise lackluster remake.
With live-action performers, it’s also easier to realize that everyone in Beauty and the Beast is kind of an asshole. This is good news for Luke Evans, who gives a deliciously over-the-top performance as the villain Gaston, undisputed king of the assholes. He gets the most energetic musical numbers, hamming it up as a sexist egomaniac with a perpetual smirk.
Emma Watson is less engaging as Belle, whose introductory song, “Bonjour” is the ultimate “I’m not like other girls” anthem. The remake expands on Belle’s status as the nerdy princess, giving her a side-gig as a budding engineer. It’s a smart, feminist update for an old-fashioned heroine, but the film undercuts it by pitting her against her peers. She enjoys reading, unlike the illiterate peasants from her village. She’s naturally beautiful, unlike the girls who wear makeup. She strolls past her neighbors while singing about how boring their lives are. It’s hard to tell if she’s an outsider heroine, or just a snob.
There’s no way to sugar-coat the creepiness of Beauty and the Beast‘s romance, especially since Disney avoids depicting any sexual attraction between Emma Watson and a CGI buffalo-lion. The Beast kidnaps Belle and locks her in his castle, and if you can’t get past the Stockholm Syndrome elements of that relationship, this isn’t the film for you. But if you still harbor romantic nostalgia for the animated movie (and many of us do), your main concern will be the nitty-gritty of how this film adapts the source material.
Many iconic moments will tug at the heartstrings of Beauty and the Beast fans, but the story might have been improved by a few more changes. In a live-action movie, it’s harder to tell a convincing love story between an independent woman and her immature, anger-prone kidnapper. So why not lean into the gothic romance of the original, and spend more time on their relationship instead of such a rapid transition from conflict to love? That way, Disney could stay true to the story while combating the difficulties of such an unbalanced relationship.